Fashion trends follow a host of complex social dynamics and indicators, however at a very crude level. A widening in income equality across the first world and developing East-Asian countries has come hand in hand with drastic changes in what we covet and how we hope to dress. From 1985 to 2010, incomes for the top 10 percent of earners in most European countries grew more rapidly than the rest of the population, according to the OECD. From the mid-1980s to 2008, the Gini index (a measure of income distribution, where 0 represents perfect equality and 1 represents perfect inequality) increased in countries including Italy (0.31 to 0.34), Germany (0.25 to 0.29) and the UK (0.28 to 0.34).
Many studies of the post-crisis era predicted that increasing income inequality might have a negative backlash on luxury fashion retail. When so many people are struggling to budget for a week, explicit displays of wealth, from cars to food to clothing, can appear gross and insensitive. According to the 2016 Wealth Report by property consultancy firm Knight Frank, over the last decade 65 percent of ultra-high-net-worth individuals have become more conscious about public displays of wealth. However, these predictions have yet to come to fruition in fashion.
The crucial difference between our perception of “what to wear,” as advised by magazines and celebrities, and wealth polarisation post-2007 compared with previous periods of social upheaval, is our access to social media. We are now not only privy to fashion icons in the spotlight, on shoots and the red carpet, but have what seems to be almost unbridled access to their “domestic” wardrobes. We can see what “the other side” wear when the stylist has a day off, and this provides a far more illuminating and all-encompassing perspective on lust-worthy style.
In one sense, the rise of normcore and athletic streetwear amongst the fashion elite has levelled the playing field. "Normcore" is a phrase coined by trend forecasting collective K-Hole to describe the phenomenon of cool kids adopting the dressing staples of the masses – from fleece jackets, frumpy tracksuits, slogan T-shirts, anoraks and ill-fitting jeans. If we see the Hadids in an Adidas shell suit, it might not break the bank to buy one ourselves. However, that shell suit (once a staple of middle-aged, pot-bellied men) is worn with exquisite irony – paired with Balenciaga boots and a YSL bag – items that only the rich elite can afford. This pairing of tongue-in-cheek streetwear with more traditional lust-worthy items amplifies the exclusivity of the latter. To wear a bag worth the same as a small car with nonchalance is the ultimate display of luxury, creating an entirely new and even more exclusive branch of luxe-normcore.
Luxe-normcore has become such a phenomenon that it has gone from the ironic culture clashes of streetwear and haute couture to underwrite the business models for up-and-coming brands in and of themselves. Think of the flurry of slogan tees, priced at £300 and above, brought out by fashion houses such as Chanel, Dior, and Gucci, the £700 tracksuits by Vetements, and even the more recent Louis-Vuitton x Supreme collaboration: these absolutely buck the trends predicted by Knight Frank and other consultants and psychologists earlier this decade.
The lifeblood of these items and collections is the ostentation of the branding and exorbitant price tags for low-ticket pieces. High fashion has engulfed and redefined the mainstay items of low fashion and, in so doing, heightened the sartorial divide between rich and poor. Whether you wear a tracksuit or a simple T-shirt, it is no longer an anonymous piece of comfort clothing, but an opportunity to make a statement about how up-to-date you are with the luxe-normcore movement and, consequently, how much you can afford to spend.
Words: Flora Walsh
Copy edited by Elena Stanciu